How Much Bandwidth Do You Need?
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Many problems with VoIP and call quality are not related to the service provider, but to Internet connectivity issues—including those related to bandwidth. In fact, bandwidth impacts quality and connectivity across many platforms—including cloud backup and web hosting services.
The truth is, we use the Internet for most everything these days. It’s our storefront, our meeting place, our storage facility, and our telecommunication provider.
How much Internet we need to do all these things is important. Webopedia defines bandwidth as “the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time.” Think of bandwidth as the storage, frequency, and volume of Internet we can use and access. If you have too little bandwidth, your access will suffer. In terms of VoIP, too little bandwidth can result in dropped calls and poor call quality.
How VoIP Uses Bandwidth
Each VoIP service provider uses bandwidth in different ways in an effort to improve efficiency. Your VoIP phone generates voice packets at times determined by your service provider, usually at anywhere from 10 to 40ms intervals. Packets transmitted at shorter intervals translate to shorter phone-to-phone delays.
In other words, shorter packets equal less time between what you say being heard by the other party. This process is complicated a little more when you consider that it takes several of these packets to carry just one word. Optimal bandwidth is required to help this process go smoothly. Otherwise, intervals are interrupted or do not occur as intended, resulting in problems.
Minimum Vs. Recommended Bandwidth
Most VoIP service providers document what they consider to be the minimum bandwidth customers need in order to properly use their services. They also list the recommended bandwidth, which is often much different from the minimum. For less potential issues, aim for bandwidth at or above their “recommended” and ignore the minimum.
When you sign up with an ISP, you choose a package based on upload and download speeds. Most, however, contain the words “up to.” This means you may not be getting all that bandwidth you are paying for. This distinction is important. It’s also important to note both download and upload speed, as upload is typically slower.
If you aren’t sure what speeds your plan provides, or want to determine your actual speed, speedtest.net allows you to check your speed online.
Determining Your Needs
After you determine the speed that your ISP can sustain, on average, consider how many concurrent calls you expect. Now, multiply this number by 100 (kbps). So, if you expect 12 concurrent users on your VoIP, you would need 1.2 Mbps. It’s recommended that a 5-10 Mbps safety margin be added to that, to ensure you have all the bandwidth you need.
If you already have a VoIP service provider or are considering service, review service provider recommendations, and evaluate your current bandwidth. Having enough bandwidth ensures you'll spend less time troubleshooting and stressed, and more time taking care of business.